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Dido to Aeneas

THUS the silver swan, when death approaches, bemoans her fate among the willows on the banks of Mæander. Nor do I address you, from a hope of being able to move you by my prayers: that, the Gods, averse to my request, forbid. But, having lost merit and fame, my honor and myself, why should I fear to lose a few dying words? You are then resolved to depart, and abandon unhappy Dido; the same winds will bear away your promises and sails. You are, I say, O Æneas, resolved to weigh at once your anchor and your vows, and go in quest of Italy, a land to which you are wholly a stranger. Neither my new-built Carthage and her rising walls have power to detain you; nor the supreme rule, which you are in vain urged to accept. You fly a city already built, and seek one that is yet to be raised; the one realm is still to be conquered, the other is subject to your command. Even if you had disembarked on the wished-for coast, how can the natives be induced to resignit? What people will grant the property of their lands to strangers? You must first be so fortunate as to find another love, another affectionate, constant Dido: you must again bind yourself by vows which you cannot keep. Yet when will you build a city flourishing like Carthage, and from your lofty towers survey the crowds below? But were all events to meet your desires, so that not even a wish remained unanswered, where will you find a wife to love like me? I burn like waxen torches smeared with sulphur, or pious incense cast into the smoking censer. Æneas is ever before my wakeful eyes; the image of Æneas baunts me both by night and day.

He indeed is ungrateful, and regardless of all my good offices; and I am a fond fool, not to tear him instantly from my heart. In spite of all his ill-usage, I have not power to hate him. I can only complain of his baseness; and, when my complaints are over, love him more than ever. Pity, O Venus, your daughter-in-law; pierce, O Cupid, the unrelenting heart of your brother, and teach him to fight under your banners. Teach me also, who have already begun the pleasing task, (for I deny it not,) and let him prove an object worthy of my tenderness and concern. I rave; and the enchanting image deludes my eager mind; nor does he retain any portion of the softness of his mother. You are certainly the offspring of rocks and mountains, or the hardened oak that rises out of the hanging cliff. A savage tigress, or the tempestuous ocean, such as it is now when swelled by gathering storms, gave thee birth. But whither can you shape your course, or how stem the force of opposing billows? You prepare to set sail, a stormy sea forbids: let me enjoy the blessing which a rough winter offers. Behold how the blustering east-wind raises the foaming waves. Let me owe that to winter and a stormy sea, which I would rather owe to your love; the winds and waves have more of justice than you. Although thou deservest to perish, cruel and barbarous man, yet I am not of such value, that in

flying from me you should lose your life. It is a costly hatred, and of too great amount, if you despise death while you endeavour to shun me. Soon the winds will cease, a calm succeed, and Triton, drawn by sea-green horses, wheel along the surface of the deep.

Oh! how I wish that you may also change with the winds! and surely it will be so, unless you have a heart harder than the knotted oak. What? as if yet unacquainted with the dangers of a raging sea, can you still trust in an element that has so often proved fatal to you? Were you even to weigh anchor, and sail along a level deep, an extensive ocean has still many dangers in store. Waves bear the vengeance of the Gods against the violators of vows; it is here that perfidy is overtaken by severe punishment; especially treachery in love; for Venus, the mother of soft and tender desires, is said to have sprung naked from the waves, that murmur round the island of Cythera. Though lost, I am anxious for your safety, and avoid doing hurt to one who has loaded me with injuries; I am afraid that my enemy shipwrecked may be overwhelmed in the raging sea. For Heaven's sake live; I would rather lose you thus than by the grave. Live, I say, and be rather the cause of my funeral. Suppose you are overtaken by a fierce whirlwind, (forbid, ye Gods, that my words carry in them any omen!) what thought or courage will you then exert? The perjuries of your deceitful tongue, and the thought of wretched Dido killed

by Phrygian perfidy, will then fly in your face. The mournful image of your forsaken wife will stand before your eyes, disconsolate and bloody, with hair disheveled. You will then own that you have met with your deserved fate, and think each flash of lightning aimed at you. Delay for a time your cruel flight, and tempt not the raging sea: a safe voyage will be the certain reward of your stay. If you are regardless of me, yet think of tender Iulus. It is enough for you to be branded as the cause of my death. What has Ascanius, what have the Gods deserved, that they who have so lately escaped the flames, should be exposed to perish amidst the waves? But neither do you bring your Gods with you; nor, as you falsely boasted, did your shoulders bear these sacred reliques, and a father, through flames and danger. You deceived me in all; nor am I the first credulous fool deluded by that perjured tongue, or the first who have suffered from a rash belief. If we ask after the mother of beautiful Iulus, we find that she fell deserted by a cruel and hard-hearted husband. These things you yourself related, and yet they made no impression: go on to torment me, since I so much deserve it; your punishment will be the less, be-

cause of my crime. Nor can I doubt that even your own Gods are offended: it is now the seventh winter that you have been tossed by land and sea. When the waves had thrown you on the shore, I welcomed you to my kingdom, and intrusted you with the government, scarcely knowing even your name. I most sincerely wish that I had confined myself to these kind offices alone, and that the fame of your having shared my bed were buried in eternal oblivion! That was the unhappy day of my ruin, when a sudden dark storm drove us into a hanging cave. I heard a strange voice, and fancied that the mountain Nymphs approved: alas! too late I now find, that the Furies presaged my unhappy destiny. Exact, O violated chastity, the vengeance due to injured Sichæus, to whom (wretch that I am!) I hasten full of shame and anxiety.

I preserve, in a little chapel of marble, a pious statue of Sichæus, wreathed with flowers and white wool. From this dome, I seemed to be four times called, and my dear husband (as I imagined) in a low hollow voice said, "Dido, come." I will come without delay. I who am thy wife, due to thee alone, will come; but with diffidence, because conscious of the wrong I have done you. Pardon my unhappy error:

I was mis-led by one formed to deceive. Let his attractions be the excuse of my folly. His mother a goddess, and the pious load of his aged sire, gave me hopes of a constant and unshaken husband. If I did err, yet my error claims an honorable excuse; suppose him faithful, and I might yield up my heart to him without a blush. The same fate which persecuted me before, continues still to harass me, and mars the quiet of my present hours. My husband fell murdered before the altars; and a bloody brother reaped his wealth, as the reward of that impious deed. I am banished from my own country, and forced to abandon the dear remains of my husband: pursued by my enemies, I take shelter in a foreign land. I was wafted to an unknown coast; and, having thus escaped from the cruelty of my brother and the dangers of the sea, I purchased the lands which I have made over to you. I built a city, and marked out my walls to such

an extent, as to raise the envy of the neighbouring states. Wars threaten me, though a helpless woman. I prepare to carry on a war with strangers, and with difficulty fortify my new city, and arm my troops. A thousand rivals make pretensions to my love, who all join in complaining, that they are slighted for the sake of this stranger. Why do you hesitate to deliver me a captive to Getulian Iarbas? I have put it in your power to use me thus basely. I have moreover a brother, whose wicked hands, already stained with the blood of my husband, may be stained also with mine. Leave your Gods, and those sacred reliques which were polluted by thy touch. An impious right-hand ill becomes the worship of the heavenly powers. The Gods disdain a sacrilegious homage: and, to avoid thy worship, would willingly return to perish in the Grecian flames. Perhaps, barbarous man, you abandon me in a state of pregnancy, and when a part of you lies hidden in my womb. The unhappy infant will share the fate of its mother; and you will prove the cause of death to one yet unborn. The brother

of Iulus will be involved in his parent's unhappy destiny; and one stroke will carry off both at the same time. But a God commands you to be gone. I wish he had forbidden you to touch upon our coasts, and that the streets of Carthage had never been trodden by the natives of Troy. It is doubtless under the same guide, (this Divinity forsooth), that you are now the sport of unfavorable winds, and waste the time in traversing tempestuous seas. Scarcely ought you to expose yourself to so many dangers to recover Troy itself, though in the same flourishing condition as when defended by Hector. At present you are not in quest of Simois, but the banks of the Tyber; where, when you arrive, you will be no more than a precarious guest; and, as it is far off, and eludes your search, it may perhaps remain undiscovered even to your old age. It would be better to accept the dowry of my kingdom, a sure inheritance, and the treasures snatched from covetous Pygmalion. You may more happily transfer your Troy to Carthage, and sway the sacred sceptre with kingly rule.

If you are fond of war, if Iulus is impatient to gather laurels in the field; that every thing may be to your wish, he shall find foes to conquer. Here you may taste the blessings of peace, or engage in the toils of war. I adjure you by your parent Goddess, by the arrows of Cupid your brother; by the Gods of Troy, companions of your flight, (so may all that you bring with you from Troy survive the attacks of fortune, and that war prove the period of your calamities; so may Ascanius fill up the measure of his years, and the bones of old Anchises rest in peace,) have pity on me, whose fate is in your hand; whose only crime is to have loved you too well. I am not of Mycenæ, or descended from hostile Achilles; nor did my husband or father ever bear arms against you. If you think we unworthy to be your wife, receive me under the name of your hostess. Dido will submit to any thing, if she may be yours. The seas that beat against the

African shore are well known to me. At certain seasons they favor and they frown. When the winds invite you to be gone, you shall spread the swelling sails: now the moored ships are surrounded with floating sea-weed. Let it be my care to observe the season proper for sailing; you shall go, when you may with safety; nor (if you should even desire it) would I suffer you to stay. Your companions will be pleased with a little rest; and the shattered fleet, not completely repaired, requires some delay. I also ask a small respite, if I have any merit with you; if you value my love, or the ties by which I am your's; that the waves and my love may assuage; that by time and use I may learn to bear my sorrows with fortitude. If not, I will end my misery with my life; nor shall it be long in your power to use me thus barbarously. O that you could represent me to yourself as writing this letter! I write, and on my lap lies a drawn sword. The tears flow down my checks upon that weapon, which instead of tears will be soon stained with blood. How well are your

gifts fitted to my destiny! You raise my sepulchre at an easy rate. Nor does this dart now first pierce my breast; it previously felt the wounds of cruel love. And you, my dear sister, the confidante of my guilty flame, shall soon pay the last duty to my unhappy remains. Nor let my monument boast that I was the wife of Sichæus; may the marble bear only this inscription: “Æneas afforded the cause and instrument of Dido's death; but she fell by her own hand.”

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  • Commentary references to this page (6):
    • John Conington, Commentary on Vergil's Aeneid, Volume 1, 4.309
    • John Conington, Commentary on Vergil's Aeneid, Volume 1, 4.361
    • John Conington, Commentary on Vergil's Aeneid, Volume 2, 10.103
    • John Conington, Commentary on Vergil's Aeneid, Volume 2, 7.27
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.617
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 14.429
  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • M. W. MacCallum, Shakespeare's Roman Plays and their Background, app. e.1
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